My high school history teacher once told me that apperently there was a tradition (superstition?) among the various Royal Families of the United Kingdom that the British Empire would last "from queen Elizabeth to queen Elizabeth", and consequently, royal offspring with any realistic chances of succeeding onto the throne would not be named Elizabeth, so as not to trigger the end of the empire. Is there any evidence of such a tradition?

This seems to fit what has actually happened; it is fair to say that the British Empire lasted from queen Elizabeth I to queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth II, at birth, was very unlikely to ever become the monarch; she would be very far in the line had king Edward not abdicated. Looking at the family tree of the British Royal Family (wikipedia), there are a few Elizabeths in it, but in each case, a younger sibling - except of course Elizabeth II.

But then, I cannot find any reference to such a tradition (it's hard to google, but that was my best shot), and it sounds a bit too good to be true. Is there any evidence of such a tradition, or perhaps that it is made up folklore?

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    Technically speaking the British Empire cannot have started with Elizabeth I because 'Great Britain' only came into existence with the Act of Union in 1707 and Elizabeth had been dead for a hundred years by then. Aug 3, 2023 at 14:16
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    Royal children are given so many names that even if there was such a superstition, all they would have to do is pick one of the others for their reign name. Example George VI was actually Albert
    – bgwiehle
    Aug 3, 2023 at 14:35
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    I think it's fair to say the "British" empire was born under Elizabeth I [Citation needed]. With Elizabeth I the British got very few territorial holdings. Navally, they were far behind the Dutch. With claims so flimsy, you could as well said that the British empire did start with William the Conqueror, or Alfred...
    – SJuan76
    Aug 3, 2023 at 15:22
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    When is this tradition supposed to have come into being? No one spoke of the "British Empire" until the middle of the 18th Century. Also, if the tradition was "from queen Elizabeth to queen Elizabeth", then surely Elizabeth II's mother, Elizabeth, should be counted. She was Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth and she was also the last Empress of India (and so has a better claim on being the end of the Empire).
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 3, 2023 at 16:54
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    James V, the second most recent monarch to die in Scotland, said in 1542 it came with a lass and it will go with a lass. He was referring to the Stuart Dynasty which came through a daughter of Robert the Bruce and he feared would end since he was dying leaving only a daughter, Mary. In fact the Stuart Dynasty did end with a lass (woman), but it was Queen Anne 172 years later. But could a garbled version of this be behind your teacher's saying?
    – davidlol
    Aug 4, 2023 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


Collating some of the comments into an answer:

  • Over a few days, no answer came forward confirming the existence of such tradition, or of something closely related; while lack of evidence is not evidence, this suggest there isn't a widely known tradition of this kind.

  • Some of the terms are a bit ambiguous; "British Empire" as a term didn't come to be until 18th century, it is not clear-cut that Elisabeth I was the founder what later became the "British Empire" - further casting doubt on the existence of such a tradition.

  • Elizabeth II, at birth, was not that fact removed from the line. Her uncle and his future offspring were ahead of her, but for example should he die childless she would be in the running.

  • Most direct suggestion, from user @davidlol, mentions James V saying "it came with a lass and it will go with a lass", referring to the Stuart dynasty. Nothing to do with the empire or women named Elizabeth, but could conceivably be mutated into my teacher's suggestion.

  • James meant Mary Stewart but it was actually Queen Anne.
    – Spencer
    Aug 5, 2023 at 22:52

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